An exchange between the apostles and Jesus in Luke 17 has always puzzled and somewhat amused me. The apostles say to Jesus, (apparently out of the blue) “Increase our faith”. Jesus doesn’t respond in the way they might have hoped with a “sure no problem” or maybe “let me get back to you”, but he seemingly wants to make them feel even worse by telling them of the powerful things they could do if they had “faith the size of a mustard seed”. Perhaps it’s my offbeat sense of humor but I could imagine the apostles thinking……“well yeah, that’s why we asked you to increase our faith in the first place!”. So was Jesus really trying to make them feel inadequate? Perhaps not.
For many of us, myself included, in spite of knowing better, there’s a tendency to think we can manage God. That is, if we behave in certain ways, we can earn God’s grace and favor. To use the popular term these days ”a quid pro quo”. In spite of everything we know, we want to reduce God to our human pettiness. However, one can see the apostle’s point of view: here they are, schlepping along with Jesus, having left family and friends to follow Him. They are looking for a little more certainty. Maybe even to feel more powerful by performing miracles: to believe that they are on the fast track to heaven because they have God’s favor.
Jesus response seems to be telling the disciples not only about the power of faith, but that faith is an unearned gift from God. He goes on in Luke’s gospel to use the example of the slave who should do what’s required and expect no reward: that doing our duty is enough. Not that as humans we shouldn’t appreciate each other’s work, but that doing God’s will, our true path to happiness, is it’s own reward.
We see both the power and gift aspects manifested in the miracles performed by Jesus. He not only heals the sick or feeds multitudes, but He does these acts for people who haven’t earned them. And in some cases, who aren’t even thankful afterwards. Jesus simple message is: all you need to do is live as He commanded us, and that through us God will truly move mountains. Perhaps the simplest example is our Christian faith, that started with a motley crew of 12 apostles, of which one betrayed Him, another denied Him and a couple of others asked their mother to get them prime seats in heaven, that has grown into a Church that today has well over a billion followers worldwide (and growing).
So what might this mean for us heading into the New Year? I suspect, like the apostles, many of us would like God to increase our faith, not necessarily to perform miracles (though wouldn’t that be cool), but to give us some reassurance that we are on the right track; that God’s Will, will indeed be done, so that we aren’t overwhelmed by our personal struggles or the bad news we hear daily. Well, it turns out there’s good news and really good news. The good news is that we don’t need to worry about accomplishing great things, God will work His miracles through us. The really good news is that the more time we spend in His presence, the more we will see these miracles unfolding in His creation.